BILLINGS — On Monday in Bozeman, the Montana High School Association met to discuss 10 new proposals, including one that would create a new board position solely for Native American representation.
The vote passed and the board will now begin preparing for a 2025 election.
“We, as an association, recognized that diversity and the understanding of different cultures and everything is very important in how we proceed,” said Brian Michelotti, the executive director for the MHSA, in a recent interview.
The love of basketball is passed down through generations on Montana's reservations.
"I’ve played since I was in the sixth grade,” said Daniel LaForge, a Lockwood resident, on Monday. “It’s just kind of run in the family for the pretty much 60, 70 years that we’ve been around now."
LaForge was born and raised in Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation.
His father, Alex LaForge Sr., was an original member of the Crow All-American basketball team, which traveled all over the country.
LaForge Sr. passed away in Billings in 2006. He graduated from Lodge Grass High School in 1940 where he excelled in basketball, baseball, and track.
He went on to play for Billings Polytechnic, now Rocky Mountain College, where he was one of the first Crow Indians to play college basketball.
Now, 84 years later, Daniel is playing basketball and so are his children — following in their family’s footsteps.
“It was just something that (my dad) did on the side, but he always knew that work came first. So living on a farm and ranch, he always made sure everything was taken care of as far as his chores. So just like I tell my kids as well, being a student-athlete, you have to make sure the student part of it gets taken care of before doing any athletics,” LaForge said. "I have four boys. Three of them (played basketball). My second oldest was actually one of the top scorers in the nation in (Junior College) at Little Bighorn College."
The MHSA wants that passion more front and center.
On Monday in Bozeman, the group discussed the proposal to add the new, eighth board member that would be filled by a Native American representative. The vote passed.
"We really committed to bringing forth a voice, you know, an opportunity for the Native American groups to be heard across the state of Montana," said Michelotti.
It's all to level the playing field.
"We had the opportunity to go over to the American-Indian caucus last year at the state Legislature," Michelotti said. "We went over some of the different challenges and issues that go along with, you know, really Native American participation in our sports and activities in the state of Montana. Obviously, it’s a huge issue."
Now, the search begins for the right fit. A vote will be held at the annual MHSA meeting in Billings in 2025 to elect the board member.
"They have to be from a Native American school, they have to be a Native American, and they have to be the superintendent, the principal, or the activity director at that particular school,” Michelotti said. “We’ll be in Billings and that vote will happen and it will go in place for the actual ’25 and ’26 school year."
In the meantime, Native athletes like LaForge are celebrating the move.
"Being able to have a voice at the table and being included," LaForge said. "This board that oversees quite a bit in the state. It’s a big step forward and we really appreciate it and we hope it goes forward in a good way."